The Fresh Loaf

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Birotes salados

SirSaccCer's picture

Birotes salados

Today I made my second attempt at baking the birote salado from Guadalajara, Mexico. It doesn't seem to be particularly well known outside of its home country: there is no English Wikipedia entry about it, for example, nor (to my great surprise) has it been mentioned on this site outside of a recent thread. I think it's time for the birote to make its way into these hallowed halls, so others can have a go at it, play with the recipe and try making an at-home version of delicious tortas ahogadas, or "drowned sandwiches". These sandwiches are a Guadalajaran street food with which the birote is inextricably linked.

Note that the recipe and much of what I know about the birote salado comes from David Norman's Bread on the Table, an excellent book with a full smorgasbord of recipes for unique European and other breads.

The history of the birote salado seems uncertain, but it's generally agreed that it is based on recipes of the French, who brought their baking techniques to Mexico when they were occupying the country in the mid-1800s. One story is that a French soldier called Birotte invented the bread, while another is that the Birotte family bakery was among the first to produce it. In any case, it's easy to see how the baguette might have inspired the shape of the birote, which is elongated like the baguette but typically much shorter. But in contrast to the traditional baguette, not only is the birote salado leavened with wild yeast, the levain is fed with beer! This appears to slow fermentation considerably, and of course it adds characteristic malt and hop flavors to the final product.

Here is a short video (en español) with a few words to say about the history and popularity of this unique bread. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you'll still enjoy some really cool shots of the production line.

On to the recipe, which makes eight 150 g rolls, each about the right size for a sandwich. I did a half recipe as a trial bake.


LevainMassBaker's %  
Ripe starter20 g3%  
AP flour270 g39%*39% prefermented flour
Beer175 g25%  
Final dough    
Levain all   
AP flour430 g61%  
Salt18 g2.50%  
Sugar20 g3%  
Water444 g64%*20 g more than original recipe 
Total1376 g197.50% 



  1. Begin with a ripe starter (I fed mine and let it ferment for ~9 hours). Mine is 60% hydration, but since the initial starter is just a small percentage of the final dough, I imagine a 100% starter would work fine with no modifications.
  2. Let the beer come to room temperature (a Mexican lager for most traditional flavor, but as you can see, I just used what I have), then mix with starter and add flour. Combine til homogeneous and ferment levain for 12 hours.
  3. Mix final dough dry ingredients together. Dissolve levain in water and add dry ingredients to wet. Combine until homogeneous (my dough was medium stiff--in fact I had to add a few more grams of water, for which I accounted in the recipe above). Stretch and fold 4-5 times over the course of an hour until the dough is taut and smooth.
  4. Bulk ferment for 4-6 hours, punching down once after 2-3 hours. The recipe claims 2 hours of total fermentation, but that is impossible in my hands. The dough never doubled in volume and generally seemed a bit sluggish (I think the microflora are probably a bit hung over from all that beer). However, it was clearly filling steadily with gas, so I took my chances with it after 6 hours.
  5. Turn out and divide into equal portions (8 x 150 g, or perhaps 4 x 300 g). Preshape into balls and rest 20 minutes.
  6. Shape rolls much like baguettes: a few median folds and then a roll and taper. Think "bananas" to get the classic shape. Nest in couche or tea towel.
  7. Allow to rise for 1-1.5 hours. As before, the rolls did not double in volume, but they got gassier as evidenced by the poke test.
  8. Score with one cut along the axis, at a shallow angle. Bake at 475 °F, with steam, for 10-12 minutes. Remove steam, reduce heat to 450 °F and bake a further 10-18 minutes until crisp, golden and hollow-sounding when thumped.
  9. Let cool and enjoy. To make a torta ahogada, the basic idea is to cut a birote nearly in half, spread it with refried beans, stuff with carnitas, dunk (all the way!) in garlicky tomato sauce and drizzle on some spicy arbol chile salsa. Recipes abound on the internet. Or check out David Norman's book!

Modifications to consider

  • I was concerned that the dough would be too dry, but I think it held fine. The beer seems to make the dough a little slacker. When I get better with wet doughs I can perhaps add a few more grams of water.
  • I know there is not a lot of hands-on time in any bread baking activity, but the 7-8 hours from mixing dough to baking can be tricky to find when my schedule is back to normal. If I were in more of a hurry, I'd treat the levain more like a paté fermentée, and add a gram or so of yeast to the final dough, which should shorten fermentation time to under 2 hours. In fact as I understand it this is how it is typically made in Guadalajara. Or else I'd find a point to retard in the fridge; maybe a long cold bulk fermentation would do ok.


Beery levain

Beery levain (¡Salud!)

Dough before bulk ferment

Dough before bulk ferment

Dough after bulk ferment

Dough after bulk ferment (didn't rise a whole lot, but obviously bubblier)

Birotes en couche

Birotes on the couche, before rising


idaveindy's picture

How much difference is there between that and the bolillo?

It's basically the same shape as a bolillo, but the bolillos I've tried taste commercially yeasted, and no beer.

I don't know about Mexico, but in some latin american countries, beer is called "birra" (beer-rah) as a colloquialism, in addition to cerveza.

Could it be a birote (birrote maybe?) is a bolillo made with birra?

The bleached-white commercial-yeast tasting bolillos are in every Mexican bakery and most all Mexican groceries I've been to here in my city.


SirSaccCer's picture

I don't know about Mexico either; I know the Italian for beer is birra but I've always heard beer called either cerveza or chela in the Latin American countries I've been to. You have a cool idea there, especially since the French bierre is similar! Perhaps it does somehow refer to the key ingredient.

Great eyes with regard to the bolillo connection too. Here in Texas and presumably across much of Mexico, sandwiches of the tortas kind are indeed usually made with bolillos. They are dirt cheap at the local grocery store, but they unfortunately taste like it. I would imagine they come from the same French influence in Mexico, but the bolillo (as I know it here, anyway) has gone the way of your average supermarket "French bread": beaten to death, risen at warp speed and full of weird dough conditioners. If I were writing an early SAT question, maybe I could say the birote is to the bolillo as pain au levain is to [insert typical chain grocery]'s bakery "French" bread. Except with beer! Also the bolillo shape is a little different (again, here, not sure about in your neighborhood): it's more oblong and less like a football.

I am curious to know know if there is a more artisan style bolillo available in Mexico or elsewhere...

SaraBClever's picture

Those sandwiches sound good and well worth the effort to make this bread!

scotgibson's picture

I don't speak spanish, but it was great to see the production.  The hand mixing, and all that expert shaping and complex peeling in and out of that oven.  Amazing and fun to watch.  

ejm's picture

Those look fabulous! After reading David Norman's book (great book), I too have been wanting to make birotes salados. I like to contrast and compare recipes, so looked on the net to find other birote recipes. I found several (in Spanish) that call for fresh yeast, zero beer, and zero sourdough. 

The only one I've found so far that calls for sourdough and beer is this one:

Thank you for pointing to bolillos. After searching for recipes for them, it looks like the only difference between the two breads is that bolillos call for the addition of lard or some sort of fat. When I used "bolillos cerveza" as search words, I came across some terrific YouTube videos demonstrating how to replace yeast entirely with beer (ie: zero sourdough).  Now, I'm wondering if the sourdough starter is necessary at all. (It's really hot and humid right now, and our starter is on a different schedule than it normally is, and I'm having difficulty with timing. (In winter, our kitchen is generally around 16C instead of 25C it is presently....) 

What do you think?


SirSaccCer's picture

Hi Elizabeth! Sorry, I need to adjust my notifications preferences so I get an email for blog comments.

Maybe you've done some experimenting already. Help me out: are you trying to make birotes without any commercial yeast or sourdough starter? Or with commercial yeast and beer, but no sourdough starter? I know that most recipes from Guadalajara call for at least some commercial yeast in addition to sourdough. In the book, David Norman writes that he experimented a bit with the recipe until he was able to cut out the yeast entirely. So I think you'd be successful in trying a recipe with commercial yeast and no starter! The beer should give you plenty of flavor. Other recipes call for lime and eggs, interestingly. It seems to be a pretty flexible recipe, I'm sure with each bakery having its own opinions and secrets.

ibor's picture

Two things I miss from the book is the approximate weight of the breads and the baking percentage of the formulas.